Mark Messier has retired.
He is my favourite player of all time. There are others who are close - ones who could surpass him even given more time. There was no way, so long as he kept playing that anyone would surpass him in my mind.
It was time. But it still saddens me. An era is over. I think that in the same way that the music of your college years tends to define your musical taste for life, the sports team of your adolescence (in this case the 80s Oilers) tends to define your concept of the best that ever played the game. That team is pretty much gone now. Sure, rookies are now the grizzled veterans, but the core of that team has hung up it's skates forever.
That makes me feel old.
I'll feel older when Trevor Linden retires. He's only a month older than me, and he's one of the few players that have any chance of passing Messier in my mind as my favourite. I suppose he's my favourite player now playing... although Stevie Y is way up there, I just haven't got a lot of faith in Yzerman's knees which makes it really hard to cannonize him.
Speaking of bad-knees... I once had a discussion with Mark Messier. It was when he was playing in Vancouver (Don't get me started. Those were bad times, but it wasn't Messier's fault.)
Mess was injured - his knee. He'd been our for a few weeks.
I was walking to work and I passed a restaurant downtown with a big window. Who was sitting having lunch, but Mark Messier. I stopped and looked. I mean, he is my favourite player right. I had to. But my look turned into a stare before I realized it. After a moment Mess turned and looked back. I realised that I was being rude and shook myself and went on, but then thought "Damn! This is Mark Messier!"
So I turned back and waved. He waved back. I pointed to my knee and made motions that I can only describe as 'questioning.' He made a 'so-so' gesture with his hand. I smiled and nodded and gave a quick salute 'bye.' He reciperocated and on I went with my day.
My other Messier story is from a game. A friend had tickets that he couldn't use. 3rd row, corner. The first and second rows were being used by the Pee-Wee teams that would eventually play during the second intermission, so they disappeared at the first break. The friend I brought and I moved up to the glass.
Early in the second period the game took a bad turn. It was a game against Phoenix, and it was back in the day when Vancouver still thought of Phoenix as their old Winnipeg Jets rival. Long story short, it was the roughest game I've ever seen, and it turned out to be the most penalized game of the season, the Canucks second most penalized ever.
In the 3rd, things were getting really brutal and both teams were absolutely furious. The puck got iced into the corner in front of us. Bob Corkum had the jump on Messier for the puck and beat him to it, keeping play alive, but Messier was right on top of him and nailed him. Hard. HARD. We practically jumped back to our original seats. We thought for sure Corkum was about to land in our laps. But at much as anything, what I recall is the infamous 'look.' It's not just a legend folks. It's real. Messier's eyes, when he is 'on' are terrifying. The intensity is... well there aren't words.
I just pray that in the new NHL there will be some heroes who at least come close.